Saturday, April 18, 2015

Even Russians Old Enough to Remember Soviet Times Idealize Food Situation in the USSR

Paul Goble


            Staunton, April 18 – Even as the diet of Russians deteriorates in quantity and quality as a result of the economic crisis (, Russians, including many old enough to have experienced the gastronomic joys of the Soviet past, are engaged in mythmaking that idealizes that past, something that threatens their futures.


            Irina Sokhan, a specialist on applied political science at the Higher School of Economics in St. Petersburg, says that it is not surprising that young people may think the past was better but the fact that older people who can remember hunger, deficits and long lines do is something that must be explained (


            Russians today, she says, have an “ambivalent” attitude toward the situation with regard to food in Soviet times. “On the one hand, ther eis a demand for making sense of the entire extent of the totalitarian inheritance; on the other, there is the phenomenon of the impossibility of accepting new knowledge to the extent that it is accompanied by traumatic experiences.”


            Sokhan examined the way in which Russians, both those of the generation that could be expected to remember the Soviet past and those of younger cohorts who can’t, respond to articles and books about food in Soviet times, a popular subject at the present time and one that that is generating a certain amount of nostalgia.


            Most older Russians and many younger ones are familiar with the Soviet book, “Tasty and Healthy Food,” which was published numerous times after 1945 and which presented an idealized version of what was possible in a country where shortages were endemic and long lines typical even for the acquisition of basic foods.


            In Soviet times, it was intended to provide an image of what Soviet people could hope for rather than what they actually experienced, Sokhan says. “Today, [the book] is continuing to play this role,” presenting an idealized version of what was possible and suggesting that the Soviet population ate better and more interesting foods than it does now.


            But that book is not the only source of the idealization of the food situation in Soviet times, the investigator says.  Many articles in the popular press and in the glossy magazines do exactly the same time, presenting the images Soviet ideologists wanted people to believe in as reality rather than invention.


             “On the wave of the idealization of everything Soviet is the danger of the total distortion of gastronomic history and as a result of the complete ignoring of the gastronomic trauma,” Sokhan says. Unless the population faces up honestly to the past, it is very unlikely that it will be able to overcome it.


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